Caledonia County prosecutor Lisa Warren confirmed Wednesday she is reviewing Pat O'Hagan's case for possible murder charges. The 78-year-old Sheffield grandmother was killed in 2010. Her body was discovered in Wheelock weeks later.
Suspects in her killing surfaced in a separate federal investigation into the illegal sale of firearms. The defendant was Michael Norrie, 23.
According to federal court documents in that case, Norrie told authorities he was with two other Northeast Kingdom men the night of O'Hagan's death, telling the feds he, Richard Fletcher and Keith Baird "did a bunch of crystal meth" and they wanted to get more money for drugs. That's when authorities say the men killed O'Hagan during a robbery attempt.
Despite admissions of involvement, state prosecutors have said they don't have enough evidence to go to trial, but assured the public there is no statute of limitations on murder. Vermont's attorney general reiterated that Wednesday, saying that his office doesn't have enough evidence to successfully bring murder charges yet.
"The problem for the prosecution is that even if the family wants them to go forward, they still have to make sure they have enough evidence under the law to do so," said Cheryl Hanna of the Vermont Law School.
But now, the state's attorney for Caledonia County tells WCAX News the case is still actively being investigated and is currently under further review.
"Prosecutors are now taking a second look at the evidence in light of all the events that have unfolded in this case and I think what they're doing is the right thing, which is their due diligence," Hanna said. "They're just making sure that based on the evidence they do have before them whether or not in fact they could bring charges."
Lisa Warren says her office may seek criminal charges in the fatal shooting of O'Hagan, depending on what the review turns up. She would not comment on whether Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage is taking over or assisting with the case. But Warren says generally in a case of this magnitude, it is a professional courtesy to assist each other, when offices are understaffed and under-resourced.
Legal expert Cheryl Hanna agrees.
"It's absolutely common practice to have a prosecutor in another county take a second look at a case particularly when you have a high-profile case and you want to make absolutely sure that your review of the evidence is a good review of the evidence," she said.
The state's review seems to have caught federal authorities off-guard. They are preparing for Norrie's sentencing in the firearms case. In paperwork filed earlier this week, Federal Prosecutor Tristram Coffin wrote, "It has been the understanding of the United States Attorney's Office that federal court would be the only forum in which the conduct surrounding the homicide of Mary "Pat" O'Hagan would be adjudged." Coffin goes on to say, "There now exists the reasonable possibility that the State's Attorney's Office may bring charges at the end of this re-examination" and "These are very different circumstances than had prevailed during the prior proceedings in this case."
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